Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Scene: hotel bar in Barcelona

I was waiting for my husband. He was at a conference and I was boondoggling in Barcelona.

Sitting at a bar. Sipping soda as it was a little too early for a glass of Cava. I began to absorb the modern feel of the crowded hotel. The hustle and bustle of business being done, connections being  made. As usual, I was more interested in the kitchen staff, the ebb and flow of the food workers, than I was in the conversations around me.
Somehow I had seated myself in a front row seat for the Jamon show. A full leg of Iberico pork, aged to perfection, is bound in a metal cage, captured tightly. One young man spends his day attacking the pork, one thin slice at a time. He doesn't speak, simply slices tiny bits off the leg, changing cutting tools to suit his needs.
He covers small plates with the meat. As each one is completed, it is quickly whisked away by a very busy waiter. The task seems endless. In this modern setting his task is basic, old fashioned and greatly appreciated.
My husband finds me and we leave.

Found this memory, scribbled on a piece of hotel WiFi instructions, from 2013.

Monday, February 2, 2015

How to Read a Recipe

  Reading is a basic skill we learn at an early age. We use it every day to navigate through our world, gain knowledge or be entertained. But reading a recipe in order to decide if you want to make a dish, is a different type of reading which is less casual and much more serious.
  A recipe is like an instruction manual for creating something, but these instructions don't come with any of the parts needed for building the item. So, we need to read recipes paying close attention to the ingredients needed, equipment required, and the steps to be performed before the cooking even begins. 

  In my opinion there are two types of recipes; those written for the professional (or very experienced) cook and those written for the novice. Recipes written for the professional assume you are familiar with and use the practice of 'mise en place'. In French, mise en place, means 'everything in its place'. In the kitchen what this means is, have all your ingredients and equipment out on the counter, ready to go, BEFORE you begin cooking. 
Picture of Cookbooks on a Shelf  The ingredient list of a recipe for the professional may include things like, 4 Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced. It's obvious that this 'ingredient' requires a few time consuming tasks - boil a pot of water, blanche the tomatoes, put them in an ice bath, pull the skin off, cut them open, remove the seeds and finally, dice the tomatoes.  Using the mise en place method, all these tasks should be performed well before the dish is started. 
  Recipes for the novice will usually have all the required steps in the procedure section. Recipes like this assume that the cook will look at the procedure steps as the ONLY steps needed to make the dish. 
  This is why reading a recipe carefully is so important. Understanding everything about a recipe before you begin will set you on a path to becoming a very good cook.
  These are the steps I use when deciding whether to use a recipe. Step 1 is what I do as I browse through cookbooks, magazines, blogs or other recipe sources.  I only move on to Step 2 once I make a conscious evaluation using Step 1. 

Step 1. Read the recipe and evaluate. 
Do you have all the equipment needed? 
Can you compromise and use what you have on hand and still make a decent dish?
Are their ingredients you don't like, but that can be substituted?
Does the recipe require 2 days to marinate or 4 hours to chill in the refrigerator; time you don't have available? 
Still interested in the recipe? Continue to Step 2.

Step 2. Read the Ingredient list more carefully. 
Make a list of the ingredients which will need to be purchased. 
Make a second list of items which may be in your pantry. 
Check the pantry and move items from the second list to the first as needed.
Still interested in the recipe? Go shopping and continue to Step 3.

Step 3. Visualize and Create a Timeline. 
In your mind, picture yourself performing each step in the recipe. 
This will familiarize you with the dance you are about to perform, the steps needed, their order and duration. 
Jot down estimates for the duration of each step.
Pick a time you'd like the recipe to be completed and back track to create a timeline.
Plan your time accordingly, you will need some extra time for Step 4. 

Step 4. Mise en Place. 
Pull out all the ingredients for the recipe.
Prep all the ingredients as required by the recipe.
Professionals will put each ingredient in it's own container/bowl. This isn't necessary but it is visually impressive! 
Get out all the equipment you will need, including measuring spoons, cups, etc.
Pat yourself on the back, you've done all the preparations that will make this so much easier!

Step 5. Get cooking!
Use the timeline you created in Step 3 to figure out what time to start.
Follow the instructions step by step.
By now, you should be quite familiar with the procedure. 
With all of your ingredients ready to go, you can now pay close attention to the cooking process and not be distracted by prepping other ingredients. 
When you are finished, consider writing a few notes on the recipe that would help you the next time you want to make this dish.

Enjoy!  You did it!

Next up: What are the skills needed to cook multiple dishes and serve them all at the same time!